The rise to international show jumping stardom of Belgian rider, Ludo Philippaerts, is intertwined with his long association with the renowned stallion Darco, a relationship that has endured for more than 16 years.

Ludo was only six years oldwhen his father Antoon, a truck driver, bought him his first mount – not a pony, but a 15hh horse. “I started competing the following year and won a regional dressage class,” says Ludo.

By the time he was 18, Ludo had won three Belgian dressage championships and taken two show jumping titles at regional farmers’ level. He then spent three years riding horses of every age and type on the national circuit.

The arrival of Darco as a five-year-old in 1985 was the catalyst and Ludo’s career reached international status. Almost immediately, the combination won the first of Ludo’s five national championships.

Darco, a Belgian Warmblood by Lugano out of the Codex mare Ozoucha, proved remarkably consistent and until he was retired in 1993, was a major winner on the European circuit. He won the Olympia World Cup qualifier in 1988 as an eight-year-old, finished sixth at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990 and seventh at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Darco now stands at stud and has quickly made his name as one of the world’s leading show jumping stallions. The qualities he has passed on to two of his sons, Ludo’s top two rides Otterongo and Parco, are “special carefulness, plenty of scope and a lot of blood”.

Ludo, whorode in the first of his more than 70 Nations Cups in 1986, finished equal fourth on the 10-year-old Otterongo at the Sydney Olympics.

Otterongo was sold to businessman Luc Verelst, on the proviso that Ludo retains the ride until after the Athens Olympics.

The Masters at Stuttgart, the Geneva World Cup qualifier and the grand prix at Zurich are among Otterongo’s successes since Sydney.

The grey stallion Parco, who carried Ludo to the national title last year, finished equal first and then first in the Bordeaux and Paris World Cup rounds in 2001.

“Parco is also extremely careful and very scopey. Both horses are still improving, but at the moment Otterongo wants to win a little more than Parco does. Really, there’s not much difference between them – only colour and sex. I have a chesnut gelding and a grey stallion and they are both superstars.”

There are currently 38 horses in Ludo’s yard at Gruitrode, which is a 10min drive from Maastricht and 50km from Aachen. This number includes 10 by Darco.

Another of Darco’s attributes he regularly passes on, is a marvellous temperament.

“As Darco did, his children need strong riding, but I like this, they’re my type of horse,” says Ludo.